Former sheriff suggests separate jail intake to identify prisoners with mental illness

The Detroit Free Press reports that a lawsuit was filed last week naming Macomb County, Michigan, as one of the responsible parties in the death of inmate David Stojcevski. According to reports, Stojcevski died in 2014 while in the care of the Macomb County jail’s mental health unit.

On Monday, September 28, 2015, Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham met with a senior FBI agent regarding the death of Stojcevski who was to serve a 30-day sentence for failure to appear in court for a traffic ticket for careless driving. Sixteen days later he was taken from the jail to a hospital where he died 90 minutes after arrival.

A lawsuit was filed by the brother of the deceased inmate claiming that Stojcevski, age 32, had lost 50 pounds and died of prescription medication withdrawal during a 16-day period at the county jail.

According to the lawsuit, Stojcevski’s death certificate listed cause of death as “acute withdrawal from chronic benzodiazepine, methadone and opiate medications.” The autopsy report recorded dehydration with hypernatremia (elevated sodium due to dehydration) and seizure-like activity. The lawsuit also states that Stojcevski was often naked in a high observation area in a mental health cell monitored on an hourly basis through recorded video.

The United Kingdom’s Metro news outlet reported that Stojcevski hallucinated and experienced convulsions as prison staff withheld medications he had been prescribed to treat his addiction.

Mark Hackel, the former sheriff of Macomb County, was interviewed following the lawsuit announcement. He advocated for an alternative to jail for minor crimes committed by people with mental illness.

Hackel suggested a 24-hour, central intake service provided by experts to determine if new arrivals have mental health or substance abuse problems. This team of experts would be responsible for finding “alternatives” to incarceration for the mentally ill and addicted rather than “warehousing” them in a county jail. He admitted that such a project would require backing from many groups including the criminal justice community. Macomb County is currently conducting a one-year $240,000 study examining future criminal justice needs and programs.

A doctor’s opinion is pivotal in addressing withdrawal symptoms. For those diagnosed with a mental health condition or for those dealing with an addiction, withdrawal from prescribed medication requires medical oversight and proper care. If you or a loved one is in need of mental health information or care please call the 24/7 Mental Health Helpline at any time.